One night in Paris, that’s all my husband and I had. Where we’d spend it needed no discussion; we’d had Hotel Amour, a sexy designer nook in the South Pigalle neighbourhood, dog-eared for just this kind of occasion. Inspired by Japanese love hotels and plonked right in the middle of the ex-red light neighbourhood, it may not be everyone’s idea of romance but it sounded just perfect to us.
We jumped out of our taxi under the neon pink Amour (that’s French for love) sign just as Paris’ pale stone sky turned charcoal and night started to close in. Cramming our four suitcases into the one metre-square elevator, we shuttled up to a rose-tinted corridor lined with erotic black and white photographs on the third floor.
Amour is co-owned by renowned Parisian hotelier Thierry Costes and designed by the guy who founded the famous Le Baron nightclubs in Paris and London, and the chic, clubby vibes were immediately apparent inside our small room. Some of Amour’s 20 rooms are outlandishly decorated by distinguished artists and designers such as Marc Newson, Pierre Le-Tan and Terry Richardson – in one 200 mini mirrored disco balls hang from the ceiling; in another graffiti covers the walls. Our room, thankfully, was simple and elegant. Jazz played softly on the mid-century radio and rain pattered down outside the floor-to-ceiling French windows thrown open onto the verdant courtyard below, from where murmurings and clinkings of a night just beginning drifted up to us.
Quickly, we dressed and headed down the spiral staircase to the buzzing ground floor brasserie for a glass of champagne and a bowl of exceptionally good moules frites amongst the “pipole”, what the French call the hip, beautiful and famous.
As beautiful as they were, though, South Pigalle soon called. We spilled out onto the rain-glossed streets, letting the wind whip us past music shops, vintage boutiques, tiny theatres and nudey bars, reminders of the area’s past as a catchment for overflow from the sleazy bars of neighbouring Pigalle. Now, however, the “pipole” are hailing the area they’ve nicknamed SoPi as the French version of London’s Shoreditch or New York’s Williamsburg. Up-and-coming and achingly hip, that is.
We stopped in at the Polynesian Tiki bar Dirty Dick (one of the aforementioned ex-nudey bars) for a potent mai tai among the red mood lighting and palm tree-print wallpaper. Next up was a romantic candlelit dinner of steak tartare and organic Burgundian shiraz at Buvette, a hip little Franco-American “gastrotheque” run by New Yorker Jody Williams, all rough brick walls, wooden tables and oversized marble bar. We’d planned to get a bit wild at nightclub Le Carmen, housed in an opulent, rococo architectural gem with high ceilings, sculpted columns, beds in the salons and golden cages hanging from the ceilings. But a digestif at elegant Glass ended up being all we could manage, before heading back to Amour to hang the Do Not Disturb sign and let the world’s most romantic city get the best of us.
The next morning, my husband had an early flight and I found myself alone in the city of love. I grabbed my umbrella and headed out into the grey morning, where fresh seafood was already being sold on the main street, rue des Martyrs, alongside fruit, flowers and fromage. I picked up a flaky croissant to nibble as I wandered the streets, weaving my way through the area’s vintage shops. Le Chat et La Souris had a fantastic vintage record selection, and Marchand D’Habits on rue Houdon kept me for almost an hour with its ramshackle collection of secondhand clothes. I checked out L’Oeuf, the pioneer boutique of the area with its range of SoPi-branded clothes, children’s toys and bags and Troc en Stock’s secondhand designer threads from the likes of Isabel Marant and YSL, and had a close call with a vintage Chanel jacket in Celia Darling.
Eventually I took the 15-minute climb up Montmartre to Sacre-Coeur, to sit on the steps and look out over the tessellated roofs as the rain sifted down and a romantic grey mist hovered over the city. When the sifting turned to pouring, I scurried back down to Amour for an afternoon of lazing about in the claw-foot bathtub, windows wide open to the rain.
Nina Karnikowski travelled at her own expense.
THIS STORY FIRST APPEARED IN PRINT AND ONLINE HERE